Samui Wining & Dining
Mining for Gems
Indulge yourself at the laid-back Buco Restaurant & Bar in Chaweng Noi.


Mining for GemsI know a lovely little place …” How often have you heard that said? It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the heart of a strange city, deep in the desert, or on a palm-fringed island somewhere. There’s always one. And there’s always also some local know-it-all who’s prepared to ‘share’ this oasis with you, usually for a minor fee. Well in this case the clever-dick is myself and the lovely place in question is a little gem of a restaurant, just around the bend from the main drag of Chaweng, in the haven that is Chaweng Noi.


It’s a well-used road, the switch-back up-and-over route that leads from Chaweng to Lamai. It’s broad and smooth and fast and with not a great deal to see as you cruise your way upwards towards the imposing overhang of the poised Elephant Rock. But there is a lot to miss, particularly if you’re keeping a watchful eye on the traffic around and behind. In fact I’ve been sailing blissfully past this ‘lovely little place’ for exactly a year now, noting the roadside signage but without a clue as to what lay beyond. The problem is that the beachside land falls away, out of sight from we passers-by up on the main ring-road.


But the modern-looking design of the name-sign definitely gives cause for pause. It proclaims Buco in colourful and spindly letters, with the legend ‘Restaurant & Bar’ appended beneath. There’s easy parking outside, and stepping to the entrance-way reveals for the first time the extent of the layout beneath. There’s an initial big wooden deck that you’ll step down onto to be greeted, a smaller, lower one, and then the beach itself, upon which are also set dining tables, sunbeds and loungers. And it’s at this point that you’ll begin to realise that this isn’t just an excellent eatery, it’s a laid-back and very tranquil spot to lay up for an hour or so and paddle about and sunbathe, too.


And this is where some folks might shrug, thinking, yes, yes, another beach restaurant . . . but don’t forget that I’m confiding to you what a lovely place this is, and not without good reason. One of the highlights is the menu, but I’m deliberately going to tantalise you by leaving this until the end. Because this is one of the few places around that you can effortlessly spend a day at. Or can enjoyably spend a night at. Or both. The daytime is picture-postcard white sand, blue skies and a backdrop of cascading coconut trees – but in this instance there’s also a picturesque and pristine Chinese cemetery, glowing with pastel tones, set amidst bowling-lawn grass. The swimming is placid, the staff are attentive around the sunbeds and there’s free WiFi for you to wander through your emails.


But in the evening the light dims and the wispy clouds take on gold and purple edging. The sea darkens and the moon eases its blood-red disk above the horizon. Dozens of candles flicker on the decks and on the beach and huge glowing torches cast their dance-light along the edge of the sea. Beyond this the entire arc of Chaweng beach beams its radiance upwards into a glowing hazy bubble and a sheen of multi-coloured lights shimmer along the fringe of the bay. The lazy fragrance of the sun oils have diffused into an ambiance of charm and now, most definitely, with tastebuds tingling, it’s time to check the menu.


I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a while now and have evolved a ‘Rob’s Rule of Thumb’ to instinctively assess the quality of a restaurant. There are several angles my thumb can be held at but in this case the rule says that if every page you open in the menu gets increasingly better and more engaging than the last, then it’s a great menu. And, at Buco, it does and it is. But that’s in no small part due to their experienced Sous Chef, Khun Suriyan Chaiprapa. He’d previously worked for many years at Samui’s legendary Islander Restaurant and the 5-star Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa, and with a provenance like that you know that the international dishes are going to be tip-top. And the same goes for the Thai Kitchen, where overall Executive Chef Khun Kamron Pagseesae works regional wonders with all the fresh seafood that abounds.


The entrées are substantial, as are the nine different salads on offer and also the soups, which include the rarely-seen clam chowder. But it’s not until you hit the pizza and pasta pages that you realise that these guys are serious. Firstly there are 14 excellent pizzas, and all made directly from the hand-mixed dough with a thin base that can be as gentle or crispy as you require. But it’s when you see the pasta listed as separate items that you realise how authentic this is. Choose between penne, linguini or spaghettini. Then choose any one of the mouth-watering sauces to go with them (‘toppings’) – mushroom in red wine and cream, salmon, clam or seafood to name a few; the list is intriguing.


Heading into the ‘meats and mains’ gets more exciting still. King Phuket lobster. Whole sea bass. New Zealand mussels. Salmon, tuna, scallops. And then there’s the rack of lamb, pork saltimbocca or new Zealand beef fillet – etc, etc. But the final thumbs-up comes with the last page – the ‘Specials’. ‘Steamed whole fish marinated in spicy Chinese Plum Sauce’; ‘Whole Seabass with Fresh Green Mango Salad’ … I could go on.


The Thai section is equally intriguing. It contains all the usual and expected favourites, but with an emphasis on Chinese elements, as you’ll see from the duck items on the menu. Seafood is also to the fore and Khun Sunan Wetcharat, the restaurant’s Executive Assistant Manager, suggests the outstanding ‘Fried Prawns in Sweet Curry Sauce’. And with four huge prawns per plate and lots of coconut milk (made fresh each day, not from a tin) this is hard to beat.


There’s a happy-hour every day between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm with buy-one-get-one-free on all drinks, and the drinks menu features juices, smoothies and shakes as well as herbal teas and a choice of red or white house wines. And if you’re thinking of happy-hour sundowners, those enticing cocktails average out at around 160 baht in the first place. And now that you’ve found another gem of a restaurant, the final thumbs up: apart from the mighty Phuket lobster, the most expensive item on the menu, the imported beef fillet, is just 600 baht.


And the icing on the cake? It’s the first birthday of Buco. And from the 14th to the 30th July there will be daily specials and treats on offer to celebrate. So who needs to hunt for gems when this one is out there and waiting for you? Just next to to Imperial Samui Beach Resort, that’s where you’ll find Buco Restaurant & Bar, Chaweng Noi.


Rob De Wet


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